ITHACA, N.Y. — A large mixed-use project in Downtown Ithaca has received a major boost with the award of a state affordable housing grant to help pay for its construction costs.

The Asteri Ithaca project, which has started site preparation at its site on the western end of the Green Street Garage, has been awarded $52 million by the State Department of Homes and Community Renewal. The grant was announced by the governor’s office last week.

The mixed-use development, which is being developed by the Missouri-based Vecino Group, is a U-shaped 12-story building that will consist of 350 parking spaces in a reconstructed Green Street Garage, the 49,000 square-foot Downtown Ithaca Conference Center and a small amount of retail space. The upper floors of the building will house 181 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom units, and set aside for those making 30-80% of area median income. The project was approved by the city of Ithaca’s Planning Board in November 2020.

Similarly to its sister project Arthaus on Cherry Street, Vecino is partnering with Tompkins Community Action on its Asteri project to include 40 units dedicated for supportive housing targeted to populations at risk of homelessness, though unlike Arthaus this does not appear to be limited to younger individuals. Supportive services for these residents will be included as part of overall property management, with offices and staff onsite. The project would also be built to Tier II NYSERDA energy efficiency standards (25% more efficient than building code requirements). Both the NYSERDA grants for energy efficiency and the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative (ESSHI) for the supportive housing units are bundled into the $52 million award.

According to documents filed with the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA), the total project cost is $108.8 million, of which only $21.8 million was to be covered with state and federal grant awards, and the rest reliant on conventional bank loans the developer’s cash equity. The development has been awarded a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement as well as mortgage recording and sales tax exemptions.

It should be noted, though, that those estimates date from before the project was shrunk down in an effort to work with its neighbor, the Harold’s Square development, which brought a lawsuit against the Vecino Group and its partners for being too close to their own building and therefore negatively impacting its tenants and its value. In exchange for slimming down the upper floors of Asteri, Harold’s Square dropped the lawsuit and offered the Vecino Group a development option on vacant land they own as part of the Chain Works District development site on South Hill.

Deconstruction of the existing 50 year-old Green Street Garage is presently underway. The Asteri Project will be completed in two phases. During phase one, the western section of the existing garage will be demolished and used as a staging area. The center garage section will be retained and four parking levels will be added. Phase two will include the construction of the 12-story apartment building
and conference center where the western portion of the garage currently sits. The construction timeline points to the Asteri building opening for occupancy in late 2023.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.